Marcus Berkmann: Enslaved for the next seven weeks

England cricket fans have learned nothing from their past sufferings
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The Independent Online

And so it begins. Against the unlikely backdrop of downtown Cardiff, the 2009 Ashes series finally kicks off this morning, and England cricket fans will settle back for seven weeks of unrelieved torment.

The heart says we will win. But then the heart is an idiot. The head says that Australia have to be the favourites. But then the head is a pompous know-all who wonders why it has no friends. Far better to listen to the gut, which senses that the series will be painfully close and brutally hard fought, to be celebrated and remembered for all time should we happen to win, and immediately forgotten should we lose.

There is, of course, no escaping it. Several friends of mine who have always refused to take Sky Sports, either on moral grounds or because they occasionally need enough money to eat, have quietly given in and signed up. You can't spend all day every day in the pub, nursing a pint of orange juice and lemonade and a packet of beef'n'onion Hula Hoops.

Millions more of us will be following the series on the internet, on our phones and via the ancient and forgotten medium of radio, whose pictures are said by some to be the best of all. Henry Blofeld has been roused from his cryogenic chamber and is said to be "raring to go".

More foolishly still, we are all looking forward to it. We have learned nothing from our past sufferings. In the glorious aftermath of 2005, we found it easy to forget that it was the only series we had won in 20 years. Australia had won the nine immediately before, and have won the only one since. And they only just lost the one we won. Whereas when we lose, we really lose.

Last time it was 5-0, and some Australian commentators said we were lucky to get nought. History, probability and Ladbrokes are all against us. Only hope, and its embarrassing friend blind optimism, are on our side, with Freddie Flintoff's medical team standing by.

So why bother? Why not just ignore it? The best answer to this is that we would if we could, and many of us have tried. But sport does this to you sometimes. It enslaves you. It starts to feel like a punishment for a crime you didn't know you had committed.

If Kafka had been English, Josef K would have had a seat in the Mound Stand for all five days of the Lord's Test. We haven't beaten Australia there since 1934. One day soon, the last Englishman who fought in the Great War will die, but how many are left who saw Hedley Verity take 7 for 61 and 8 for 43? The last one should have a state funeral. Once no one is alive who remembers it, it might as well not have happened.

The worst thing is the way we pass it on to future generations. As I write this, it is raining and I am notionally in charge of my seven-year-old son downstairs. "OK," I say, "you can watch a DVD. What do you want? Ice Age 2 has to go back tomorrow." He shakes his head. He points at the top shelf, far out of reach, even for me. "Ashes 2005," he says. "Fourth Test at Trent Bridge."

He is looking forward to this series as much as I am, and believes very strongly that Harmison should play at Lord's. Poor little mite. I blame myself, and strangely enough so does his mother.

Marcus Berkmann's 'Ashes to Ashes: 35 Years of Humiliation (And About 20 Minutes of Ecstasy) Watching England v Australia' has just been published by Little, Brown at £16.99